June 5, 1975, was a red-letter day for Patricia Villareal, a San Antonio native and a staff member of the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the House Judiciary Committee. That was the day the bill extending the Voting Rights Act – and expanding it to Latinos – was passed.
Villareal was born in Sonora, California, to Lonnie Villareal and Stella Finnegan. Her father was a Mexican American who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He met her mother, a woman of Irish descent, in Manchester, England.
Villareal says her participation in politics started as a teenager when her uncle ran for state representative. After many campaign experiences in San Antonio, Villareal moved to Washington and worked on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and later on the House Judiciary Committee.
With the success of the bill extension, Villareal realized lawyers could indeed effect change, and she vowed to attend law school. She applied to Harvard School of Law and she became involved with the Chicano Law Association, later named Chicano Law Students Association to La Alianza.
After clerking for a few law firms, Villareal landed a position at Jones Day, a Midwestern firm that had just moved to Dallas in 1982. She planned on moving back to Washington, but 35 years later she’s still in Dallas.
“What I started really enjoying was the intellectual challenge of law practice. I had been driven so much, by passion and for people and of wanting to make changes, and I got really intrigued by learning and pushing myself,” Villareal said.